By Joel Barrett, Managing Editor
Thursday, November 9, 2006 — In the early morning hours of Wednesday, District 8 hopeful Larry Kissell was buoyant.
He hadn’t gotten shellacked by incumbent Republican Robin Hayes in his bid for the U.S. House of Representatives.
In fact, he was a mere 468 votes behind.
His opponent had already declared victory, but wait a minute, Kissell told his supporters.
Provisional ballots in sections of heavily Democratic Mecklenburg County and across the district hadn’t been counted yet.
“I’ll be on the phone the first thing this morning, asking when they’ll be counting ‘em,” Steve Hudson, Kissell’s campaign manager, vowed around 2 a.m. Wednesday.
During the night, Kissell picked up another 122 votes.
“We picked up some extra votes last night because of an error in the originally reported election returns narrowing the margin to 346 as of now. That's one of the many reasons we're hopeful on this end. Nothing is set in stone on these numbers and every time we turn around the reporting errors seem to be breaking our way. Any way you look at it, a winner won't be decided in this race for several weeks, so stay tuned and hang on,” Hudson said.
Nov. 17 is the date that election boards across the 8th District will consider provisional ballots and certify Tuesday’s results.
That’s the day, Hudson said, Kissell wll know if he’s pulled off the upset victory over incumbent Hayes.
Just how many provisional ballots will be in play on Nov. 17?
“We've been trying to get a hard provisional vote count by county all morning. No one really seems to have a count,” Hudson said.
Kissell, a former textile mill employee turned teacher, remains in awe of the numbers.
“The proof is in the numbers. I beat Hayes in counties that he has traditionally won in the past. I ran strong in Hayes' home county of Cabarrus ,exceeding recent Democratic margins there as well as in Union and Stanly Counties,” he said.
“That's why I feel confident that once the votes are counted, that we will have taken our country back from the Washington politicians and special interests."
If such an upset becomes a reality Nov. 17, it will be more than almost anyone could have imagined a few months ago. After all, Hayes, a wealthy mill owner from Concord, was facing a challenge from a candidate who had never even run a campaign before.
The uphill battle didn’t deter Kissell.
Kissell slogged through the months since his winter announcement. He beat a field of candidates to win the Democratic primary in May. He polished his act and his message.
He hammered away on the loss of jobs in the district He pointed out Hayes’ ties to big business and lobbyists. He was constantly reminding potential voters of Hayes’ last-minute flip-flop vote that put the Central American Free Trade Agreement over the top.
He wasn’t a bleeding heart liberal as some wanted to portray him. He was a regular guy who, like many in the 8th District, hold core values dear. He wants the U.S. to be strong on defense, hi preserve the rights to bear arms, to tigthen immigrant policies and does think the U.S. can afford to implement universal health care yet.
His traditional stands struck a chord with voters. He earned the endorsement of the GOP-leaning Charlotte Observer.
His stance on the Iraqi war was pragmatic. He said the U.S. accomplished its goals in Iraq when it found no weapons of mass destruction, ousted and captured Saddam Huessin and helped the county on the road to democracy. It took a year to “phase” into Iraq, now it’s time to take a year to phase out of U.S. involvement in Iraq, he said.
Kissell scored huge numbers in six of the 10 counties making up District 8. He took Anson, Hoke, Mecklinburg, Montgomery and Scotland counties. In Mecklinburg, he outpaced the imcumbent by a 2 to 1 margin.
He lost in Union County by less than 40 votes.
If Hayes holds on, it will be due to the resounding victories he scored in Cabarrus with an almost 6,000 vote margin and in Stanly County, where he beat Kissell by 3,400 votes.
A confident Hayes claimed the victory and blamed national and international factors in the closeness of the race.
"Tough year. Great race. Good win," Hayes told supporters gathered at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Concord late Tuesday night.
"Wish the numbers had been a little higher, but it says W. A big W."
Hayes called this year's campaign "grueling."
"(It's) because of things outside of the district. Things that we have no control over, just general atmosphere."
Kissell said election lawyers from outside the area were on their way to the district to help out and that he was receiving donations aimed at keeping his campaign afloat for the overtime effort.
“What the results tell me is that the people have spoken and they have demanded change,” Kissell said.
Even 24 hours after Hayes declared an unofficial victory, it wasn't clear how many provisional ballots were left to count. In Mecklenburg County, where 8th District voters picked Kissell by a 2-1 margin, elections director Michael Dickerson said there were 195 provisional ballots to be checked.
State Board of Elections spokeswoman Johnnie McLean said officials there had only heard from seven of the 10 counties in the 8th District, including Mecklenburg, about the number of provisional ballots outstanding. They reported a total of 1,406 ballots, but she cautioned some of those counties are only partly covered by the 8th District, making the total number of provisionals ballots in the race unclear.
State election law requires provisional ballots be counted by Nov. 17, the day when counties present final, official tallies for certification to the State Board of Elections. A request for a recount must be made in writing on the first business day after votes are certified, and the recount would take place within 48 hours, State Board of Elections executive director Gary Bartlett said.
- The Associated Press contributed to this story.